The world of science fiction and fantasy art and design has lost one of its true legends as Ralph McQuarrie died today at the age of 82.
McQuarrie began his design career after moving to California from Indiana in the early 1960s. While he started out working as a technical illustrator for Boeing, he also found jobs designing film posters and providing animation elements for CBS News coverage of the Apollo space program.
An offer to work on concept art for a film project followed, and his designs caught the eye of director George Lucas, who had an idea for a little movie about adventures in space. McQuarrie worked on designs for Star Wars before it was even known by that name and, in 1975, was commissioned to provide the now iconic designs for the likes of Chewbacca and Darth Vader, plus many concepts for the sets and ships. His art actually helped convince 20th Century Fox to take a gamble on Lucas’ dreams, making him a key component in one of the most beloved franchises of all time.
"I just did my best to depict what I thought the film should look like, I really liked the idea,” he’s since said. “I didn't think the film would ever get made. My impression was it was too expensive. There wouldn't be enough of an audience. It's just too complicated. But George knew a lot of things that I didn't know."
Lucas naturally asked him to work on The Empire Strikes Back and Return Of The Jedi, and he even got to appear on screen in the uncredited role of General McQuarrie. But despite his close connection to the Star Wars universe, he declined Lucas’ offer to return for the prequels, commenting that he'd rather hand the baton to a new generation of artists and designers.
Outside of Star Wars, McQuarrie worked closely with Steven Spielberg on Close Encounters Of The Third Kind and ET, providing the jaw-dropping designs for alien vessels. He also contributed to Raiders Of The Lost Ark and won an Oscar for Cocoon before moving on to work as either a consultant or the concept artist for such films as Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, Batteries Not Included and Jurassic Park.
A true original, McQuarrie is survived by Joan, his wife.